Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Velda's Fly

I opted for a whimsical title for this post, which I will explain later.  So yes, you have to read all the way through to find out.

And speaking of that, if you didn't watch the TED Talk by Alberto Cairo that I posted in my post on Saturday, I really don't know what to say to you.  Why wouldn't you watch it?  It's amazing.  He's amazing.  He's a wonderful storyteller, it's a great story, and yes, you should watch it.

I'll wait.

I'll cut everyone a bit of slack because I'm hoping everyone had a wonderful Memorial Day weekend, like I did.  In the Northeast, it looked like it was going to be a bit of a washout as of Friday.  It poured and was a whopping 50 degrees on Saturday.  I actually used up the last of the firewood in the fireplace--it was that chilly.

On Sunday, I decided to take matters into my own hands, so I made limoncello, as promised/threatened.

Limoncello is just grated lemon zest soaked in vodka for a good long time (anywhere from 10 days to a month).  Then you add simple syrup (so-named because it's boiled water and sugar) and let it all sit for another 10-30 days, strain it, and voila!  Limoncello.

The longer you let it sit, the more flavor it will have, obviously.  So really, all you need is vodka and time.  (And lemons.)

The cashier at the grocery store commented on the number of lemons I was purchasing (15).  She said, "Wow, this is going to make a LOT of lemonade."

What this told me is that she has never actually made lemonade from actual lemons, and she may not have actually ever squeezed a real lemon for its juice.  15 lemons will give you all of about 2 cups of lemon juice.  Enough for one batch of lemonade.  That's why most people turn to Minute Maid.

In any case, the limoncello did the trick, because Monday dawned bright and sunny and 70 degrees.  I did it.  I coaxed summer back into the Northeast.

You're welcome.

I actually had a very productive weekend both indoors and out, because of the weather.  I spent two days reading--I'm nearly finished with Mandelstam's autobiography, Hope Against Hope, and I read Thi Diem Thuy Le's The Gangster We Are All Looking For (2003).  It's actually quite good: it's about a young girl whose family flees Vietnam and begins a new life in San Diego. 

I also finished that tank top I was knitting--the one that might as well have been knitting itself.  (I told you it was going quickly.)

When the weather cleared, I began gardening my brains out.  Aphids got one of my rose bushes while I was away a few weeks ago, and boy, was I pissed when I saw that upon my return.

I know, I know: "we're all God's creatures" and "respect life" and all that crap, but man, those little bastards stripped every single leaf off of my rose bush.  I left it looking happy and healthy and wonderful and ready for summer, and when I came back, it was stripped.  STRIPPED.

So I began hunting for ways to get rid of aphids without using pesticides.  Last year, one of my friends ordered a batch of ladybugs (yes, really), and they set up shop in her garden and had quite the little party, and all of my friend's problems were solved. 

My friend is one of those people who has unbelievable gardening luck.  Everything she plants, grows, and any bugs who arrive leave before they do too much damage... it just doesn't seem fair.

So last year, I followed her lead and ordered a batch of ladybugs and when they arrived I opened the box and... it was a Coccinellidae Nightmare.  Almost all of them were dead, and about half of them had begun to rot.  I'm not sure WHAT happened, but it was really not something I wanted to see.  Or smell.  Because yes, it smelled like dead ladybugs.

I usually don't do this, but I actually contacted the people who sent them to me and said, "Your bugs were DEAD!" because I thought they should have that on their conscience, given that I was facing some serious post-traumatic stress disorder at the sight of this bug holocaust.

They sent me another box.  I was somewhat reluctant to open it, since at this point I couldn't help but wonder whether maybe they were just sick freaks who like to send people batches of dead bugs.  But the bugs weren't dead.  They stayed for about a week, ate a modest breakfast and a light lunch, and then left for good.

And I still had aphids.

So this year, I read that if you grate up banana peels, and put it around the base of the plants, it will drive the aphids away.  It can't hurt: the potassium in the bananas is good for me and good for the roses, so I'll give it a try.  I'm also trying to plant things that aphids don't like, so they'll take a royal hike.

Okay, before my post gets any longer, I'll explain why I gave it the title that I did.  I went to a Memorial Day party last night, and it was quite a lot of fun.  I arrived home a bit worse for wear, given that my host kept insisting that I have another glass of wine.

I said, "No," and "No thanks!" and "I'm good," many, many times--I swear I did.  But next thing I know, a bottle was opened, I was handed a bowl of bread pudding with vanilla ice cream, and somehow my glass was full and... well, I made it home, so all's well that ends well.

At the party, the friend of a friend told a wonderful story.  She's from Australia, and in the late '60's, around the time that The Beatles were all the rage, so too were ladies' pantsuits.  So she and her best friend Velda went out and got themselves each a pantsuit, so that they could be cool like dat.

The thing that made these pantsuits particularly shocking was that they had a fly in the front, like men's pants.  While it seems hard for us to imagine, women's pants didn't have a fly, prior to the 1960's--they were buttoned on the side or at the waist, but they didn't have a zipper up the front.

Because, mercy!  A zipper up the front of your pants... like a man... well, I never!  What is the world coming to?  Nowadays, of course, there's no requirement that your pants cover your underwear or your butt-crack, and quite a few celebrities have been photographed not even wearing any pants at all, so... we've come a long way, I suppose.

So this is what happened to Velda: she came home as pleased as punch with her new pantsuit and when her mom caught sight of it, she slapped her and called her "a tart."  Velda started to cry and ran to her friend's house, where her friend's mother reassured her that she wasn't a tart at all--she just had a new pantsuit.

Imagine this story told with wine, laughter, bread pudding, vanilla ice cream and an Australian accent, and you'll understand why I wanted to pay homage to Velda here tonight, and why I had a wonderful Memorial Day weekend.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Cruising Altitude

I've been simultaneously tempted and terrified to blog for the past several days.

It's been an insanely productive week, and I'm afraid that, having written that statement, I've now officially jinxed it, and the weekend will find me sighing and staring out the window while eating Mallomars.

But I'm going to hope not.

I've said it before, and I'll say it again: the old adage, "If you want something done, give it to a busy person to do," is all too true.  I work best when I have a lot to do.  A lot, but not too much (because then I'll just become defiant and not do anything except issue proclamations that begin with the phrase, "Life is too short to...").

This summer, I have a lot to do (but not too much), so this week has worked well for me.

I've written half of an article since Monday.  No one is more surprised by this than I am.  True, I had been working on the reading and research ideas for a while now, but I really didn't expect to be able to sit down and crank it out so quickly.

Again, fingers crossed, because I could be jinxing it with every word I type.

I also work well, as I've mentioned before, when I have the option of setting things aside and doing something else.  So, I've been writing, but I've also been gardening and getting the lawn in shape.  (It's not done yet.) 

I took a mini-break from all of that by making a virtue of necessity: I harvested a whole bunch of mint and made mint extract.  It's not hard: all you need is cheap vodka and mint leaves.  And a container, of course.

I've begun to realize that making sure there's a bottle of cheap vodka on hand at all times is a householder's key to success.  It has quite a range of uses, and if none of those fit your immediate purposes, you can always just drink it, I suppose.

I use it to make vanilla extract, because really, that's all vanilla extract is: vanilla beans soaked in alcohol for a while.  There's no need to pay $4 for a tiny bottle, when you can have a quart of it and just keep replenishing it until the end of time.  Vanilla beans last a while.

It's the same principle with the mint, although you do need to take the mint leaves out, obviously.  Bruise the leaves, soak them in vodka, and you'll have extract.

My next project is making limoncello for the summer.  That's lemons soaked in vodka for a few weeks, with water and sugar added and then left to sit for a little while longer.

My favorite vodka moment: noticing that they sell "Low-Cal Vodka" at the liquor store.  If that's where a large number of your calories are coming from, you need to think about a very different solution to your problem than simply buying "Low-cal."

Meanwhile, I have about... five?  six?  ten?  knitting projects underway, but my favorite is the tank top that seems to be essentially knitting itself.  It's really so easy that I fully expect to walk into the room at some point and see it working on its own innards with its little needles.

I'm also reading Nadezhda Mandelstahm's autobiography, Hope Against Hope.  It's about the arrest, exile and eventual death of her husband, the poet Osip Mandelstahm.  All I can say is, Nadezhda herself is no slouch as a writer, and her observations about the nature and purpose of poetry--its intersections with politics in the early decades of the Soviet Union--are really interesting and thought-provoking. 

It's not for everyone, obviously, but it's my thing.  I do what I wanna do.

Monday, May 20, 2013

"Steps Almost Straight"

I'm coming up on a season that has been a difficult one for me in recent years.  For a variety of reasons, I've come to associate summer with loss.  It's a time when several of those who were extremely important to me have died, and I can't imagine ever not feeling a renewed sense of sadness at the memories of their loss that the warm weather always brings.

Time has changed the way I cope with those feelings, though, as it does for almost everyone, I think.  It's a highly personal experience, one that no timeline or trajectory can adequately assess.  People who tell you, "the first year is the hardest," or who talk about Kubler-Ross's stages of grief and identify which one you're supposedly in (as if you didn't already know)...  they mean well, but they know nothing at all about the realities of loss.

Or they do, and they simply don't want to be brought back there.

It's not something that can easily be put into words, the experience of loss and the adjustments we find ourselves forced to-- reluctantly, painfully, angrily--make.

I rediscovered the following poem by Emily Dickinson several months ago, and it has been on my mind ever since.  I think it sums up the way we all struggle to adjust to darkness in our own ways, to enable Life to step almost straight.

We grow accustomed to the Dark --
When light is put away --
As when the Neighbor holds the Lamp
To witness her Goodbye --

A Moment -- We uncertain step
For newness of the night --
Then -- fit our Vision to the Dark --
And meet the Road -- erect --

And so of larger -- Darkness --
Those Evenings of the Brain --
When not a Moon disclose a sign --
Or Star -- come out -- within --

The Bravest -- grope a little --
And sometimes hit a Tree
Directly in the Forehead --
But as they learn to see --

Either the Darkness alters --
Or something in the sight
Adjusts itself to Midnight --
And Life steps almost straight.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

In Flight

I've been away for the past week, and right now, I'm trying to adjust to going from sunny skies with temps in the 80s and mandatory daily applications of sunscreen, to rainy, foggy, and chilly, with temps in the 50's.

I miss what I had.

That said, I'm looking forward to the summer. I have a major research project planned that I can't wait to get started on, and really, how often do you hear someone say a thing like that? This is what I'm saying: it's THAT good. And I have also accumulated a wonderfully large stack of books.

Bring it.

I spent most of today getting from Point A to Point B, and along the way, I noticed a few things. And learned a few things.

My discovery of the week is that vinegar added to laundry will brighten whites, act as a fabric softener, and remove lint. I was skeptical, but I tried it myself when I arrived home with a batch of laundry to do, and it's true. It does whiten dingy whites.

I already use homemade laundry detergent, which costs far less than any of those floral, fruity, chemical baths that are rapidly polluting our waterways, so this is an added bonus.

And no, my clothes don't smell like vinegar. I've said it before and I'll say it again: we're being suckered by corporate America. So many things we don't even need, and yet we've come to believe we have to spend money on them in order to be happy--or even just moderately presentable.

It just isn't so.

Because I've been traveling, I've been at the airport a fair amount over the past week, and nowhere is this sensibility more apparent. All of the "upgrades" the airlines offer: what are they, really? $90 to move my seat three rows up? The chance to line up in the cordoned-off line right next to the cordoned-off line for the "general" public?

I might as well carry a placard that says, "I support Conspicuous Consumption."

When I was flying home from Portugal several years ago, I had a truly amusing experience involving this more or less arbitrary distinction between "first-class boarding" and "general boarding." The airline I was flying apparently didn't give a crap about such distinctions, or maybe we just had a couple of Portuguese airline employees who had had it with everything, because they just began boarding all of us.

An American in the crowd pitched a wicked fit. She began insisting that they were getting everyone "all mixed together." She repeatedly yelled, "Look at this! What are you doing? Everyone's all mixed together. We're in First Class. What's the point of First Class? We're all mixed together. I spent money, and now we're all just MIXED TOGETHER. It doesn't mean ANYTHING."


It sucked that she paid a fortune to end up standing next to little old (smiling) me. Because my ticket was free, actually. I cashed in a voucher that I got when I was stuck on a overbooked flight from Paris.

I sooooooooo wanted to tell her that, but I didn't. Can you imagine? I would just turn to her and say, "I used a coupon." It would be priceless.

The Portuguese airline employees handled it quite simply. They pretended they didn't speak English. (For the record, from my experience, in Portugal, they'll actually pretend they don't speak Portuguese if they don't feel like dealing with you.)

I did so love that first-class moment, and I think of it whenever I see the people boarding 5 minutes ahead of me. But for the grace of God and an airline worker, you might be "mixed in" with me.

Airlines in general are funny things. And so is airport security. I've decided that really, it's a crapshoot, so you might as well just roll the dice and see what happens. If you get someone who's angry at the world, you're going to be given a hard time.

Case in point: I accidentally walked up to a podium instead of staying behind a yellow line. I was firmly told to "stay behind the yellow line until called," so I took a full step backward and apparently pacified an angry soul in pain.

I mean, really. Like we're going to swarm the checkpoint. To what end?

Meanwhile, there are the nice ones. Like the checkpoint guy who asked me how I was doing and seemed like he really wanted me to be doing okay (which I was). And he asked in a way that was not at all sleazy, which made it just that much nicer. He's the same one who told me that I should take the opportunity to put my driver's license back in my wallet so I wouldn't lose it, since I wouldn't need it after that point.

I thought that was really nice, actually. Because these security people, they make you take out A Very Important Form of Identification that has a terrible, terrible photo of you on it, and maybe you need it, maybe you don't, but you're just left carrying it, from point to point, hoping against hope that you don't drop it or misplace it or lose it.

Because if you lose it, you're screwed, not just because it's A Very Important Form of Identification but because the picture of you that's on it is startlingly bad and doesn't really look like you at all and you really don't want anyone to ever get their hands on it. EVER.

No one can ever say I don't appreciate the little things.

A mixed experience on my trip came in the form of the security guy who confiscated my two bottles of homemade lotion. (It was a gift for a friend.) He asked if I had a bottle in my bag, and so I said, "Yes," and took it out to show him: I had one in my bag, one in my toiletry bag.

I could see the existential dilemma play out across his face. I had put him in a serious philosophical quandry. A dyed-in-the-wool terrorist would never openly tell him, "Yes, actually, I have TWO bottles of lotion. See? You missed one."

Did he genuinely believe in the principles he was sworn to uphold? This is what I decided to test, and he passed with flying colors.

They were the wrong size, he sadly told me. They were too big. He couldn't let me take them on the plane.

My friend suggested that I should have begun rubbing the lotion on myself to show him how wonderful it really was. I confess, I did open the bottle, but to no avail. He simply said, "It's like a gel. And it's the wrong size."

At that point, I decided that there was no need for me to let him off the hook. I told him the bottles of lotion were a gift for someone else (which was true), and then kindly said, "But if you have to take them, you have to take them. It's your job. I know. I understand."

He looked like he might very well cry. He apologized profusely and said, "It's just that they're more than 3 ounces..."

I know, my friend, I know. We faced a sad irony in that moment. No two bottles of lotion were more innocent than they were and yet we had to treat them like they might very well be small torpedos filled with plastique.

He then told me I could go back out through security and pay $20 to check my bag, if the bottles were "worth it to me." Once again, I refused to let him off the hook. I repeated that he had to do his job, and there was nothing I could do: we simply had to accept the situation in front of us.

I didn't tell him that there was no way in hell I would ever go back out through security because 1) security is a pain in the ass, and 2) I have never in my life cared that much about a bottle of anything.

As far as I was concerned, he could very well shake my carry-on luggage out over a garbage can and fling an empty Samsonite carcass at me and I'd still be okay. Even if the bag actually HIT me.

I'm tough like that. Little does he know, I don't even use shampoo. And besides, all of the various bottles in my toiletry bag wouldn't add up to $20, so it would be foolish to check it.

Unless, of course, I had purchased a 3-oz travel size of everything. Then my toiletry bag would have been the most expensive component of my luggage, totaling well over $50.

Meanwhile, they let me on the plane with an Epipen. If you've never seen one, it's like a very, very large, very fat, click-pen, except that this click-pen is actually a hypodermic needle with a shot of epinephrine in it.

I've had to use it on myself, and let me tell you, it hurts: it's a pretty large needle. I once administered it to myself in the early stages of a bout of anaphylactic shock and I yelled "SHIT" while I did so. (Just so you know.)

It left a sizeable pin-prick (that actually bled) surrounded by a reasonably large bruise and it hurt for days.

So really, if you bother me in flight, I do have options. Of course, I would first have to decide whether to inject myself or someone else. I have to admit that I really wouldn't know what to say to the other passengers if they found out that I had just given a highjacker a short-term dose of adrenaline.

Security also let me on the plane with knitting needles (wooden) and non-regulation-size bottles of facial cleanser.

Actually, I have often wondered whether they always let me on the plane with the Epipen because when they look at it on the scanner, they assume that I'm carrying a dildo in my purse and they don't want to embarrass me in front of the other passengers.

Because if all you're looking at is the X-ray outline of an Epipen's case on a computer monitor, you may well think that's what it is.

I have spent quite a bit of time blushing at the thought that anonymous airport security personnel may think that I'm the kind of woman who carries a dildo in her purse. (I'm not.)

I confess, I've often secretly wished they would search my purse and confiscate my Epipen, just so that I could triumphantly announce, "It's an EPIPEN. I have severe food allergies, and that's ALL."

So far, it hasn't happened.

On the flight home, we had a slightly cranky flight attendant. She was a bit defensive. When they came through to make sure you have your seat back up and your tray table in the upright position, she encountered a passenger who did not. She told him he had to put his seat back up and then said rather aggressively, "This is so we can get out of the plane in case of an emergency."

Based on the comments that the man muttered about her after she passed by, I suspect that a statement that was meant to be merely explanatory came across as defensive and arbitrarily authoriarian.

Meanwhile, the person sitting next to me was quite upset that it was foggy and rainy. He said, "Great. Oh, this is going to be a lot of fun to drive around in. Just GREAT." And he sighed heavily.

Really, it was only drizzling, and we did have 2-mile visibility. So this made me wonder where he had to "drive around," and whether he was perhaps not a confident driver. Or maybe he knew he was going to be on the Turnpike or the Parkway or some other high-stakes roadway where drizzle really means something in terms of your overall driving experience.

And speaking of things that mean something, I must simply say here that I had a wonderful, wonderful week. At the end of the day and the end of this blog post, my only wish is that I could somehow simultaneously be both back there and right here.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Know It All?

There's an interesting article on The Creativity Post about knowledge and confidence (or ignorance and confidence, if you prefer) by Sam McNerney, entitled, "Learning From the Illusion of Understanding."

As McNerney notes, psychologists have long been aware of what's known as "the illusion of explanatory depth." Simply put, we tend to think we know it all until we're asked to actually explain how something works.

Quite frankly, I think anyone who has spent hours of quality time with a child should be well aware of this phenomenon. Many a time I've wished I'd paid more attention in third-grade science class. Or seventh-grade science class. Or any science class, really.

I do literature. That's my excuse. If you need a big, fancy word or a kick-ass sentence, I'm your go-to girl. I'll read until my brain falls out or my voice gets hoarse.

When it comes to knowing all about all kinds of Other stuff, though, not so much.

As McNerney points out, must of us, when asked to offer a detailed explanation of how something works and then asked to rate our own understanding, become a bit more humble. We quickly realize that we really don't know after all.

When asked an opinion, however, we are far more likely to stick to our guns, even though it is equally likely that we don't understand the issues or ideas on which it is based, any better than we know how a zipper works.

If you spend anytime looking at discussion boards or comment postings online or on social media, you will see widespread evidence of this. People repeatedly lambast others for their ignorance, all the while remaining blissfully blind to the fact that, if put in the hot-seat themselves, they would very likely fare no better.

Psychologists have found that, if we're asked to give a "mechanistic" explanation of a particular policy or issue, however, we become more aware of what we don't know, and in many cases, we become inclined to adopt a more moderate stance on the issue.

In effect, if we treat an opinion as if knowledge is required in order to understand its function, we expose the workings of an equivalent "illusion of explanatory depth," and adjust our attitudes and self-perception accordingly.

If we're simply asked to give the reasons for our opinions, however, studies show that we learn nothing: in such instances, participants refused to reconsider their positions.

I think this is an interesting way to think about both education and public discourse. Instead of eliciting opinions and justifications--in effect, instead of asking someone, "Why do you think that?"--perhaps we should seek bona fide information and explanations and let self-scrutiny do some of the work.

In media polls today, this never happens--presumably because to do this would be to put people on the spot. We kind of all know that we kind of don't know at all, so we ask the questions that will elicit a reaction--and if those reactions and any counter-reactions are fiery or defensive or venomous, so much the better.

The goal of opinion polls is entertainment, not information. But studies show that it doesn't have to be that way--and maybe it shouldn't be.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Spring Fever

Well, the week turned out to be exactly as busy as I predicted, and I complicated matters by developing Spring Fever. (Also somewhat as predicted.)

Every winter, I sit at home with a book and read and think, "This summer, I'm going to paint this room. It's too drab. Why did I think this looked okay?"

In my mind's eye, what I envision is a leisurely summer cheerfully spent daubing paint on a wall or two, musing about colors, enjoying the emerging change.

For the past two years, what has happened is, the minute the outdoor temperature rises above 65 degrees, I begin a do-or-die painting marathon that looks nothing like what I envisioned.
So that's what I embarked on last week. For reasons that are in no way rational or reasonable, I decided that to my "To Do List," I was going to add, "Paint the living room and the dining room."

I did it. It's done. It looks good, I'm pleased. It wasn't really necessary that I do it at this time and in this way, but that's what happened.

I suspect that this manifestation of Spring Fever is exacerbated by the fact that early spring is always marked by the need to do a lot of reading and grading. A fellow-teacher friend and I were once discussing how sometimes, it's helpful to take a break from grading and do some other task, like cleaning.

She pointed out, however, that this can quickly get out of control. I thought for a moment and then said, "You mean like when you're up on a chair vacuuming drapes and you suddenly think, 'Why am I doing this?' and then remember, "Oh, yeah: I have grading to do."

It can quickly get out of control.

This type of procrastination is distinctly different from the kind of multi-tasking a lot of students do (and no, I'm not just saying that to justify myself). In a recent blog post entitled, "Why Learning and Multitasking Don't Mix," on The Creativity Post, Annie Murphy Paul points out that "when students multitask while doing schoolwork, their learning is far spottier and shallower than if the work had their full attention. They understand and remember less, and they have greater difficulty transferring their learning to new context."

Try telling that to my students. They really do feel like they do good work--if not "their best" work--when the cell phone's nearby, the TV's on or the ipods hooked to their ears, Facebook is open, and they're chatting with friends online and/or texting.

The way in which college students complete their work has changed drastically in the 20-plus years since I graduated from college. The most we had was a radio or a stereo or a TV. Some people had a Walkman, but those had to be loaded with a CD, so your options were limited.

Computers were expensive and rare. Most people had to go to a computer lab if they wanted to use one. There were no laptops. NO ONE talked to their mom every single day, multiple times a day. You could only be distracted by the phone if it rang. You could only talk to, at most, two people on a phone at once: one of them would be sitting on hold while you finished up your conversation with the other.

When I found out how students worked on homework, I almost had a nervous breakdown. Yes, I can see listening to music while studying. (I don't have it piped into my ear canals though, because I read a study years ago about how that destroys your hearing.)

But you have to shut the distractions down, if you want to do anything productive. The brain processes cognitive input sequentially, not simultaneously: you can't concentrate on multiple things at once.

You just can't. it's not you, it's biology. The human brain is not wired to do that. You can't drive and text or talk on the cell phone and "pay attention" to either activity. You just can't.

That said, it has been shown that sitting at a desk or in front of a computer, staring at it (or at the professor) in desperate hopes of forcing knowledge into your brain is also not the best way to learn. Children--and by extension, adults--learn best by doing or by integrating sensory or kinetic stimulation into the learning process.

That's why you have no problem remembering not to touch the stove. Because when you did, years ago, it hurt. Permanent imprint on your brain.

It is rare for me to sit and sit and sit in front of a computer or a book for hours on end. 2-3 hours, is my limit, unless I become so engrossed in what I'm working on that I don't notice the time passing.
I think and clean. I think and paint. I think and walk. I think and bike. I think and swim. I think and cook.

Basically, I get myself started on a project or idea and then I put it on the mental back burner while I do something else. Grading is the exception to this because in order to grade, I really do have to sit down and do it.

But I still adhere to the same rule: 2-3 hours, and then I take a break to do something else. On the days when I have grading to do, I break my day up into discreet parts and make sure I have other tasks to do, to offset the amount of time I know I'll need to be focused and immobile.

Typically, it works quite well. I get large amounts of grading done quickly and efficiently, because I don't ever try to do it all at once. Broken down into small increments, the task is far more manageable and I stay focused.

Until Spring Fever hits, that is.